Having heard that Jeff Bezos skims his personal email daily for customer complaints, I thought, why not drop Jeffrey a line? Annoyed by random charges in my Amazon Author account, I wrote him at jeff@amazon.com. Shockingly, I received a response. As it turns out, it was a simple fix, I just had to change some settings. 

For a moment I considered emailing donald@whitehouse.gov or bill@microsoft.com but thought better of it and took the time to write this column instead. There is probably a small army filtering Bezos's email, but the optics of this type of interaction are powerful. Amazon is a 900-pound gorilla, and perhaps even considered a bully, yet it takes the time to listen to its customers. 

Amazon is setting the bar for customer service on several fronts. Prime has become much more than a delivery fee; it's the hub of the company's platform. There are many lessons we can learn from Amazon about service:

Redefine loyalty.

The ongoing narrative about satisfaction and loyalty is nauseating. I've heard enough about net promoter score for a lifetime.

But Prime is the most successful loyalty program in the history of mankind. In a recent letter to shareholders, Bezos claimed that Amazon had over 100 million members who are believed to spend more than double its non-members. Though joining 100 million people isn't very exclusive, Prime members still feel like they're part of a club.

By absorbing a few nickels in shipping costs, Amazon is losing the battle but winning the war. All providers should be looking for a similar hook in which results demonstrate raving fans who are willing to spend more. Stated satisfaction is not enough; actual loyalty and changing behavior should be the endgame.

Set clear expectations.

Amazon recently announced a price increase in Prime, and smartly lessened the blow by grandfathering in customers for a year. As an author on Amazon's platform, I can tell you Amazon regularly sets long lead times, so it can consistently beat committed delivery dates. Find ways to over-deliver.

Set the bar for speed.

Amazon upped the ante to next-day delivery and is building infrastructure to achieve same-day delivery. It may be hard for small companies to achieve the supply chain advantage of a giant like Amazon, but those in e-commerce and other sectors must be built for speed. Those delivering physical goods are creating networks of 3PLs (third party logistics) that can satisfy customers' needs for uber-fast delivery times. Service companies should also build structures that offer the same sense of urgency.

Embed best-in-breed technology.

We are headed toward zero clicks--a world where artificial intelligence does all the heavy lifting. There is debate over which AI platform will dominate, and my bet is on Alexa (whose name means "the defender of man" in Greek), as part of Amazon's grand design to dominate the universe. Alexa will offer unparalleled ease of use and access to Amazon's treasure trove of data.

By feeding the beast, machine learning will only get smarter and deepen Amazon's advantage. But technology is also the great equalizer, and smaller companies can deploy plug-and-play systems through companies like Square that provide seamless transactions.

Listen to the voice of the customer.

Early in the company's history, Bezos would wheel an empty chair into management meetings to represent the voice of the customer, "the most important person in the room." It's one thing to talk about the voice of the customer and another thing to hear it. Amazon also requires managers to take call center training, so they can experience the pain of customer issues firsthand. Truly customer-centric organizations employ formal methods like customer advisory boards, ticketing systems, and other ways to collect feedback, not only to overcome dissatisfaction but as the source of innovation.

Measure actual results.

After a holiday season when Amazon famously delivered 99.9 percent of its packages before Christmas, Bezos held his ground. He expects 100 percent performance and nothing less. We should all aspire for perfection in serving customers, because that's what they deserve.

Published on: May 29, 2018
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.